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Taoiseach says there should be a cap on RTÉ exit payments

Mary Lou McDonald says it is ‘crazy’ to pursue people in court for non-payment of the TV licence fee.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he supports a cap on RTÉ exit payments while stating that confidentiality clauses “should be avoided” in the future.

Speaking to reporters at Government buildings, Varadkar said he had confidence in director-general Kevin Bakhurst and chairwoman of the RTÉ board Siun Ni Raghallaigh, stating that they were “doing their best” to stabilise the organisation.

Over the weekend, Kevin Bakhurst released information on four executive departures, including Rory Coveney, former director of strategy at RTÉ, who left his role after he and Bakhurst agreed “it was best that he stand down”. 

Bakhurst said yesterday that RTÉ “couldn’t fire him”. 

Media Minister Catherine Martin called a meeting with Bakhurst yesterday following the latest revelations. 

The Taoiseach said today that he wants maximum transparency when it comes to exit packages at RTÉ.

“I understand that the director-general Kevin Bakhurst is getting legal advice on that and it may be the case that because of confidentiality clauses, it won’t be possible to disclose all the information that we’d like to see.

“But certainly, whatever is at the legal limit of possibilities, we want to see maximum transparency.”

Varadkar said he would not get into anyone’s individual remuneration but said it was “essential” that the national broadcaster provides full transparency to the extent that is legally possible.

“The public and the government want to know exactly what the nature of these exit packages were. Where some are early retirements, we want to know how it was calculated,” he added.

“Where it was redundancy and exit package, we want to be assured that there were real savings here, that these posts are not backfilled and were genuine redundancies,” he added. 

He said he agreed with Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin in her calls for a cap to be placed on exit payments.

He added: “I think what Minister Martin said about this is spot on, is that there should be a cap on the exit payments, and confidentiality clauses should be avoided wherever possible.”

Making the situation worse

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald hit out against the slowness of RTÉ in coming forward with information, stating that it is making a bad situation a whole lot worse.

“I’m surprised that they haven’t realised that at the most senior level. So we need full transparency,” she said, adding: 

“I think it is quite something that if you’re an RTÉ executive and you mess up, and you walk away, you walk away with a golden handshake. If you’re a regular person, and you walk away from your job, you walk away with nothing. As a matter of fact, you could have difficulty getting a social welfare payment.

“If you are a senior person within RTÉ it seems accountability comes very slowly if at all, but if you haven’t paid your television licence, you’ll be summoned to court, you’ll be fined, or you might even be sent to jail for a couple of hours. How is that for contrast? That to me is an outrageous situation.”

Speaking to reporters at the launch of her party’s Yes vote referendum campaign this afternoon defended her party’s proposal roll out a TV licence fee amnesty for those that have not paid.

McDonald expressed frustration with the government’s handling of the TV license fee, calling it “crazy” to pursue thousands of people through the courts for non-payment.

She also criticised the government for not pushing ahead with direct exchequer funding model. 

When asked if it was fair to let people away with not paying their licence fee, while others have already paid, McDonald said she is one of the people who has paid.

“The whole scenario is unfair,” she said, stating that it is unfair that people are asked to pay a license fee, that in the words of government, “is out of time and from a different era”, she added. 

“It’s also unfair, in a scenario where people see the wanton waste and squander within RTÉ and no consequences for that and then the little guy or gal doesn’t pay their TV licence, but they get dragged into court. I mean, where’s the fairness in that?” she asked.